“In addition to secular learning, spiritual education is a priority for young people belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Over 700,000 participate worldwide in seminary and institute — two programs that are part of the Church’s educational system and open to members of all faiths.
Nineteen-year-old Rebekah Steinmetz woke up at dawn every morning for four years to attend a 6 a.m. Church seminary class in Houston.
“I’m not a morning person, and it took me a while to get out of my bed, so I would wake up at 5 a.m. to get ready,” she says. “The lessons were always good and made my day better and easier to handle.”
As part of the four-year seminary curriculum, Steinmetz spent each school year studying one book of scripture, such as the Old and New Testaments in the Bible. Study also included additional Church scriptures the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants.
Steinmetz says the spiritual instruction has increased her testimony of Jesus Christ. “I remember a lesson on the Atonement. The teacher pointed out that the Atonement wasn’t just for our sins but for our pains, disappointments and sicknesses. It deepened my appreciation for the Atonement. It just really impressed me.”
And those are lessons Steinmetz is applying to her everyday life. “If I’m going through a really hard time with friends or school, I can’t explain it to anybody. It’s comforting to know that someone knows what I need and when I need it; He can always know what’s best for me even when I don’t know.”
Now that she has graduated, Steinmetz participates in the institute of religion program for college students between the ages of 18 and 30. Institute students study topics such as scripture, Church history, doctrine, and preparation for marriage and serving missions for the Church.
Twenty-five-year-old Lesley Brunson, the class president of an institute class in Houston, says: “Unlike other classes, people aren't in institute because they need the credit. There is something special about being a part of a group of people who choose to spend their free time discussing the gospel.”
Matt Strader, current institute teacher and coordinator of the institute and seminary programs in Houston, says these programs make a big difference in the way youth live their lives. “Whenever they put their spiritual learning first, their academic learning will fall into place. It will help them in school, careers and their jobs.”
Brunson agrees. “My secular education has given me valuable information and skills,” she says. “Without the focus, direction and perspective that come with spiritual education, that information and those skills would be largely useless to me.”
In addition to its seminary and institute programs, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also operates Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, which is the largest privately owned university in the United States. The school offers bachelor’s and graduate degree programs for over 30,000 students.
The Church’s commitment to education extends around the world. In March 2001, late Church President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the creation of the Perpetual Education Fund to help provide young men and women in Third World countries education and training for employment in their own countries.